Is poetry obsolete?

As an English professor and a poet, I face this question every day. The death of poetry would put me out of a job. Each year, I teach a required seminar called Studies in Poetry, in which I must convince a new group of Boston College sophomores that poetry matters in the English major and in life. Although they’d never say it, many students probably enter the class wishing they did not have to take it. My job is to change their minds.

At Yale University’s English Department, where I earned my Ph.D., poetry is making headlines. Last spring, students petitioned the faculty to scrap Major English Poets, a required yearlong sequence featuring mostly white men. Last fall, faculty members agreed to meet to reconsider every word in the title of the course. And just recently, the faculty voted to revise the major, retaining historical distribution requirements while adding a new course, World Anglophone Literature. Major English Poets is now optional.

The last word in the title (Poets) may well be the least important. The students were not suggesting that a roster of white male novelists would be an improvement. The petition didn’t mention lowercase “poetry” once. Yale English professor Leslie Brisman has stated that the new major requirements were meant to remove poetry from its “privileged position” in the department. Has poetry given up the ghost? [read more]

Inside Higher Ed 14 April, 2017